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home : outdoors : features April 29, 2016

1/23/2014 5:36:00 AM
Feeding winter's feathered friends
Use suet to attract winter woodpeckers such as the large pileated woodpecker pictured here.Dean Hall photograph

Use suet to attract winter woodpeckers such as the large pileated woodpecker pictured here.

Dean Hall photograph

Fast facts

• Loose cats, windows, and birds of prey are some of the dangers associated with feeding birds.

• It’s important to keep bird feeders clean to lessen the risk of illnesses such as salmonella.

Craig Turk
Outdoors Writer/Photographer

Feeding birds can bring some color and action to your backyard winter landscape. But there are some bird safety issues associated with feeding.

First, If you are providing birds with food during winter months, they may start to depend on your offerings as a regular food source.

Your feline friend may not be much of a friend to your feathered ones. If you have a cat, make sure it doesn’t view the birds in the feeding area as a regular food source.

A loose cat is likely to set up an ambush from a nearby spot and pounce on feeding birds.

Birds of prey, such as hawks and owls may also watch from nearby, hoping to ambush a meal. It helps to place feeders near trees, bushes, or brush piles so the birds you feed have places to quickly take cover.

To protect birds from window collisions, place feeders within three feet of windows or more than 30 feet away.

The Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative suggests hanging streamers or strings of old compact disks in front of a window, or applying static window clings to the outside of windows. To be most effective, such deterrents should be spaced no more than 10 inches apart. It may be necessary to reduce the spacing to 4 inches.

Anti-reflective plastic films are also available, as is plastic netting to divert birds that are on a collision course with glass.

For windows that are aligned, allowing birds to see all the way through your home or a corner of your home, close the drapes or blinds on one of the windows.

This time of year, feed will attract the hardier birds, year-round Northwoods residents such as chickadees, nuthatches, dark-eyed juncos and maybe even some cardinals.

Grains such as sunflower seeds, milo, millet, and corn are common bird feed.

Black oil sunflower seeds attract a wide variety of our winter birds, such as chickadees, blue jays, evening grosbeaks, pine siskins, nuthatches, dark-eyed juncos and cardinals, and it’s a good choice. So is thistle seed. Both are high in crude fat.

Some birds, such as blue jays, prefer corn, which can be offered cracked or whole-kernel. Don’t feed birds the red-dyed kernels meant for planting – they are treated with a toxic fungicide.

Suet can offer a replacement for food such as worms and insects that birds can more-readily find during the warmer months.

Suet attracts many bird species, including jays, nuthatches and chickadees. It is especially attractive to woodpeckers such as the downy woodpecker, the hairy woodpecker, and even the large pileated woodpecker. If you want to watch woodpeckers, suet will aid your efforts.

Birds can get sick from old, moldy food and can transmit diseases such as salmonella. Feeders should be cleaned regularly. Some pointers to keep in mind:

• Shake a feeder before refilling it to dislodge old, wet, compacted seed.

• Clean hulls from seed trays and platform feeders daily.

• Wash your hands after cleaning bird feeders.

When it’s wet outside, large amounts of seed can become wet on platform feeders. Feed with covered feeders or place only small amounts out at a time.

For feeding tips, visit http://web4.audubon.org/bird/at_home/bird_feeding/.

References: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; Cornell.edu; Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative.

Craig Turk may be reached at cturk@lakelandtimes.com.

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